Archive for December, 2010

The presence of Christmas

December 25, 2010

WARNING: not exactly written by Santa (or Jesus) . . . could have been written by a slightly reformed Scrooge.

Of all the holidays, Christmas packs the most emotional punch. It also has a huge economic wallop as well. It seems to be lacking in the original celebration department yet booming in the expectation market.

Christmas is great when one has a loving family, friends, and an ample bank account with the caveat that one wants to celebrate (some people don’t like to celebrate . . . their choice). If one those goes missing, the presence of the other two can still make Christmas festive. As long as one is willing to celebrate, it is still great absent any two. Minus all three, though, you gotta have a pretty special person who can still celebrate . . . for the same reasons. In America, I know that there are non-Christians who do not celebrate Christmas but they are happy for the day off from work or the boon in their economic status if they are retailers. There are others, though, who are friendless, homeless, and penniless. They are wondering where (or if) they belong in the festival. Looking closely at their stories, you might discover a physical, mental, or emotional illness, a series of bad decisions, and an unfortunate string of events. Any one of them could be me.

Each season, I come to grips with the insanity of Christmas. I have spent Christmas all by myself and felt very at home doing so. I have spent Christmas caught up in the anxiety of giving far too much of my resources just to see them discounted as not being good enough for the recipients. I let go of the expectation any necessary miracles. I got tired of the drama. I have even been just fine without putting up a Christmas tree.

I am very selective about what parts of Christmas I celebrate. I celebrate the presence of my loved ones. I might honor the gift of their presence with the gift of my own. I might hand them something significant to both of us. Most of all, I am letting go of the requirement that others make this day special for me. The gifts I give are not really gifts if I expect others to respond in kind. At that point, the gift becomes a bribe.

I am into self-giving. I make sure I give to myself first, to others next. I am unexpectedly, other-worldly, shamelessly selfish in the gifts I give to me. The first gift I give to myself is that of gratitude. For everything I imagine that I lack, I name two gifts in my life that I am grateful for. Before too long, the abundance of what I have in my life overshadows and tumbles over any imagined lack.

I am not sure anyone would want to bank my gratitude and try to buy groceries with it, but I know this: ever since I started giving myself the gift of gratitude, there is not an empty space to be found in my cabinets and refrigerator.

I am full.

Happy Christmas.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

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the presence of problems

December 21, 2010

To understand that life means difficulty liberates us because it helps us to understand problems and suffering as natural parts of life, not as signs of our inadequacies. There is a saying, “A small heart gets used to misery and becomes docile, while a great heart towers above misfortune.” From the Buddhist perspective, the fact that life is filled with problems is no reason to be depressed, downhearted or resigned to a miserable fate. Buddhism is not Stoicism. Buddhism finds happiness in the midst of rather than the absence of problems. The reason so many people are unhappy is, for the most part, delusion. They believe the predominant myths that our culture propagates about happiness. -Buddha in Your Mirror

A couple of avenues of thought on this quote open up for me. My mind ambles around the definition of a problem, poking it here and there to see what gets my attention and what makes me yawn. Anytime I get a nudgy*, uncomfortable feeling that something is going to keep me from getting what I need or want, I am likely to define it as a problem. (*nudgy => a sensation that one is being nudged to action. I like making up words.)

The proportion of a “problem” is defined by where it might land on my threshold of concerns. Some problems present opportunities to get creative and do something (usually ANYTHING) different. These problems generally fall into the category of self-infliction. I brought the problem upon myself most likely because of my own behavior. If I am unhappy, well, then, duh. Being unhappy in the face of a personal morass is not necessarily a bad thing. The feeling should be a signal to me that I am not taking good care of me. The circumstances should be screaming “quit doing this!”

Whether or not I pay attention to the messages I am sending myself is well within my choiceful control (hmmm . . . not sure “choiceful” is a word but can’t take credit for making it one).

There are karma problems — those that seemingly materialize out of nowhere and toss some trash around my life that I have to clean up or learn to live with. These are the problems that happen when I am minding my own business and just living my life. I hate karma problems. It means that I was an idiot in a prior life and the problem is here to remind me not to sit on my laurels. (A laurel, by the way, is a success, something that I have achieved. There are very few laurels that are okay to rest on because all things in life are transitory, but that’s a blog for a different day.)

Then, there are problems that I create from nothing. Really. I can manifest problems where none currently reside. I don’t think I am the only person in the universe who can do this, though, so hold your applause. It is not a special, unique quality. The problems that I create from nothing are those I imagine because I believe I am missing something in my life. These result from my habitual practice of comparing. For example, I am perfectly happy with my car, until I see a car that appeals to me more. So I ask myself, why? Well, the other car is new, is a different color, has a bigger engine, washes its own windows, and I imagine that I will look so good driving it, people will pull over to stop and gawk at me. Fortunately, I have a built-in reality checker that notes the windows of most new cars are tinted and you can barely see the driver (think about that the next time you want to use a famous hand gesture to send inconsiderate drivers a message . . . waste of time . . . they can’t see you.)

What I really want is a car who will bake me cookies when I am having a bad day. I have to be scraping the bottom of my problem cookpot for me to let this dilemma depress me. Can you imagine the conversation?

“Hi, Barbara, you look down. What’s wrong?”

“Oh,” long heaving sigh, “it’s my car.”

“Your car? Oh, dear. What’s wrong with it.”

“It is just not performing well.”

“Hmmm . . . do you need to take it in for service? I can follow you and drive you back home.”

Another sigh. “I don’t know. Maybe. I’ve had this car for well over two years now. I treat it well. I give it lube jobs and oil changes regularly. I keep its fluids at top level, but it just does not seem to appreciate me.” (Wiping trickle of tears from cheeks.)

Other person blinking. “What?”

(sniffle) “It has never baked me cookies even I leave it hints and everything. The whole back seat is full of ready-mix chocolate chip cookies, and everyday I check, but it does not seem to get the hint.”

“Huh. You think you got problems. My car refuses to go anywhere without speeding. Even if it sees a speed limit sign at the speed it’s travelling, it still insists on adding ten miles to the speedometer! Yesterday it was so reckless, an old lady had to jump out of its way at a crosswalk.”

Wow. I feel much better. Now, I get to use my famous hand gesture in person!

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

the presence of love

December 18, 2010

We need to love.

It is inherent in the very molecules that breathe life into our souls. In fact, love may be our souls. And when who or what we love disappears, we suffer as if a part of our soul took flight to follow them.

Who we love is easy to identify: our family, friends, and animal companions.

What can be anything from a cherished possession to a lifestyle to a dream.

I have observed even when a loved one is dying from an incurable disease, the people who love that person want him or her to hang around as long as possible. We don’t want them to be suffering or in pain, but we have a selfish love that is tagged for that person and that person only. When that person dies, where will our love go?

I have heard people who have lost their beloved spouses say that they would never love anyone like that again . . . that spouse who died was “it” for them and that is the end of their love life.

We love the feeling of loving others. It fills us up. It makes us melt.

When we lose our people, our item or the ability to live the way we want and let go of an unrealized dream, we miss that feeling of loving. We not only mourn for the loss, we mourn for ourselves. Mourning helps heal that raw and sudden wound. And our love floats around the empty space searching for a place to land. It is a specific love, reserved in a special place within us.

I notice my love when I am tending my plants . . . especially the one that I thought I had killed last winter (see the presence of plants).

I notice my love as I sit and play with my granddaughter.

I notice my love as I carefully construct a conversation with a family member in desperate times.

I notice the love I have for that Magic cat has nowhere to land. I miss loving her presence.

The lesson that this is teaching me is to love more . . . even though I may lose the presence of what I love, to be without the presence of loving is a dark and lonely existence.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

the presence of imaginary enemies

December 15, 2010

Far too long ago, I wrote about the voices in my head . . . okay, it was 10 days ago. Life these days is draining my mental and emotional energy leaving very few synapses who willingly want to connect to make a complete sentence.

I have chosen to pay attention to these life moments because the people involved are important to me. I am doing what I can to support my family members who are in crisis. I am letting the voices in my head do some of their thinking for them because they are so deep in their worry and anxiety they can barely see past the next moment and when they try, life is full of imaginary enemies out to get them.

Those enemies (such as being homeless and foodless) are very real when they occur, but up until that moment, they exist only in our heads. Their threat can bring about this sort of inertia where the only thing people can focus on is what is lacking in life . . . what they don’t have. What they don’t have leads to the story of what will happen next and that is usually not a very good place. I keep reminding them that they have family and friends who are supportive of them, but we don’t want to rescue them. We want them to be safely employed and securely housed and my energy is devoted to helping them see the paths they can take to get themselves there.

This experience has caused me to pay attention to my own imaginary enemies . . . the stories I create about what will happen next because of what is happening now. Once I create the story and believe it, the story becomes my enemy because I will not be able to see a different story. The story can be very positive – great and wonderful things happen to me! But it can also be my imaginary enemy if the story is founded in magical thinking or if it ignores the reality of my present situation. A terrible story that does not end well for me can also be my enemy because it takes away my ability to see opportunities in my present that would change my imaginary outcome.

I think the key is to become aware of how I want my life to look and feel like, keep that picture inside my mind and those feelings in my heart, and do what is possible for me in this moment to support that result.

I can write the story another day.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

The presence of voices

December 5, 2010

When I was very young, I became aware of the voices in my head . . . and not all of them get along with each other. They like to argue. At the age of five, one of them actually convinced me against the advice of another voice that if pepper made food hot and spicy, then salt would make food cool and mellow. Five glasses of water later, my parents asked me why I was drinking so much and I admitted to what the salt voice told me to do.

They found it highly amusing, but I realized at that point I could not trust the salt voice. Its intent at the time was to lead me astray. (The pepper voice said “I told you so!”) Eventually, I learned to befriend the salt voice because it can also come up with amusing and funny ways to be in life. It likes to ignore the perfect voice in me that absolutely requires I never do anything wrong. The perfect voice is just as important because it has impeccable judgment. It knows what to do when the perfect action is required, for instance, when I am driving a vehicle or caring for a child. Whatever action successfully navigates me and everyone else through those encounters intact is perfect.

What reminded me of my voices was Laurie’s post at Speaking from the Heart on perspective. I must hear from at least five different perspectives in me on any particular matter throughout my days and nights. You can just imagine what they are doing with my family dilemma at this moment (see post “the presence of burden.”)

Well, you probably can’t unless you hear voices, too.

If you do, we will just keep it between us. Okay? I’ve found that admitting to hearing voices in public brings a little more scrutiny from people than I care to deal with. From now on, we will just call them “perspectives” when in the company of others.

I started out this blog to discuss the mind-body “problem” – which I don’t think is really a problem. Essentially, the mind-body argument wants us to decide if the brain and mind are “one” or separate from each other or connected. So, there we have three voices . . . um . . . perspectives on an idea that I would like to explore.

But I’ve spent all this time and virtual space just introducing how my intellectual processing works so I will take up the discussion tomorrow.

(“No, let’s do it now.”)

(“Yeah. You are always waiting for the right time, which never comes by the way.”)

(“You guys leave her alone. She will write it when the words are ready to be written.”)

(“Oh, prefect, you always take her side!”)

(“That’s p-e-r-f-e-c-t, noodle brain, not prefect.”)

(“Whatever!”)

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

the presence of burden

December 3, 2010

We all carry loads of weight and worry through life. Some are emotional packages of haunted pasts. Others are physical wounds lodged within our bodies resulting from those uncompromising rules of cause and effect. More are mental burdens that grow heavier and lighter depending upon whether we sail into winds of fortune or disaster.

I am currently living in a place of fortune. My physical ailments are minimal and amenable to spiritual intervention. I am as securely employed as anyone can be these days and my salary meets my expenses and debts and allows me to save for retirement with grateful awareness. My emotional baggage is a matter of personal choice, but the mental acrobatics I am performing to dodge the cannonballs people are firing at me lately are exhausting.

There are loved ones in my life who are victims (some of it self-inflicted) and walking on that dangerous border between feast in a warm shelter or famine under a twinkling cold night sky.
My 20/20 hindsight can clearly see that they should have made different decisions and wonders “where was their foresight?”

These family members have turned to me to help them with their situations. A part of me wants to help, while another part of me is fiercely protective of the life I have created for myself. Some errant wisdom in me says that my helping them would interfere with their growth process . . . that if I patch up their situations, they will just continue to make bad decisions, not learn to take care of themselves, and forever remain ignorant of how resourceful they can truly be. Another nagging wisdom points out that they need support and I have resources that can help them . . . but at a price to me and my security.

I stumble over what my responsibility is to them. What is my obligation to the people and creatures I witness in distress? Is it my duty to share my blessings in an existence that is not fair? (Note to self: I worked hard and sacrificed much to get these blessings.)

My ability to make life fair for my loved ones is limited by their efforts to make life fair for themselves. Nothing about the situation feels good: my heart hurts for myself if I help them and hurts for them if I do not. I do not delude myself with the fantasy that if I help them now, they will help me in the future should I need it.

I think I will let the spirits duel it out.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass